Journeys Part Two: Awakenings
Sequel to Journeys; part of Journeys Series
like this one,” Xander said, fingering the thick vellum of the invitation. He
touched another. “But this one is nice, too. When do we need to decide?”
like to get them ordered right after Christmas. We have all the details settled
that will need to go on them – date, time, place, whether to use both of my
made up middle names or only one. We just need to figure out how many we need.
When did your mother think she’d have her list ready?”
next week, maybe? You should give her a call. You know she’s a lot better at
meeting your deadlines than mine.”
nodded, her eyes on an envelope lined with teal foil. “She’s afraid of me. It
can be very helpful at times. And quite gratifying.”
and Spike emerged from the training room, arguing. Giles was just behind them,
polishing his glasses and looking bored.
both wrong,” he told them, as he slid his glasses back on. “It was the Attila
the Hun and the Sword of Tiew.”
bickering blonds looked at him, glanced at each other and shrugged.
there were Goths, right?”
looked at the empty tables. “No food yet?” she asked. “I’m starving.”
be here any minute,” Xander said.
pretty sure that only works with pizza, Ahn.”
I don’t think I like that rule. It’s clearly discriminatory. And possibly
up an appetite today, pet?” Spike asked Buffy.
training. You did notice that, didn’t you? Because mostly, I was
slamming you to the mats.”
I was around. All. Day. Long. Noticed you working up a sweat – getting
all – hot. Over and over.”
quite.” Giles cleared his throat and Spike and Buffy glanced at him, their eyes
narrowing, but the other man had already turned to Xander. “Were you able to
see Willow today?”
His face clouded. “I waited until her Long Oblivious but Suddenly Concerned
parents drove off, then let myself in.”
sat down at the Scooby research table. “And?”
she looks like hell. Messy, with overtones of creepy. And her hair left the
Scare-A-Palooza station about five stops back. Emotionally, though? It’s harder
to say, but I’m thinking – worse.”
began filling them in on his meeting with Willow.
there’s Amy, standing up in her cage, staring with her beady little eyes at all
the rotting food on the floor. Thought I’d better clean it up before word got
out about this new Mecca for rodents and the pilgrimages began.”
by one, the rest of the group joined Buffy, taking a place at the table.
no way I was going to mention we thought Rack might have a partner or partners.
The way she was acting, she’d have probably headed right out to look for him. Or,
um, them. Or it.”
no remorse-like signs, huh?” Buffy asked. “I don’t know why, but I keep
expecting her to suddenly appear with a sad face, major huggage and Willowy
gonna happen, Buff.” Xander spoke with a resolve Willow would have
been proud of.
outside the shop distracted them, and they turned toward the door as it opened
to admit Dawn and Tara. The girls were followed by the food delivery person, a
gangly teenage boy whose arms were laden with bags. Xander stood and began
helping him transfer the sacks to the table.
draped her jacket over the chair next to Spike before dropping her hands
casually onto the vampire’s shoulders. He squeezed one of them in response and
tipped his head back and to the side to look up at her.
through the first day, huh?”
it was completely nuts, but, you know, good.” She looked at her sister. “It
probably would have been a lot easier to get through if I’d known we were
having a Chinese feast delivered. Instead, I spent the entire day thinking
about sitting down to a supper you cooked.”
around the room, mouths opened to disabuse her of such a notion, but Giles,
even distracted by paying for the food, got there first. “Oh, please don’t.”
A zinger from the G-man!”
cooked a lot of that Thanksgiving meal. At Giles'. Remember?”
guessing that’s the problem, love. They do.”
laughed and moved to help Anya unpack the little white cartons of food while Tara passed out
plates and napkins.
were tied to a chair, Fang Boy.”
the easier to observe you lot with, see which tidbits were being hidden under
the candied yams.”
lower lip jutted. “I have some ‘I’m not going to school’ time right now. I
think I’ll dig out mom’s books and start Betty Crockering.”
straightened in his chair, looking slightly alarmed.
love these,” Dawn grinned, swinging one of the containers by the silvery
handles. “They’re so cute.”
her nose. “I know. I always want to wash them out and save them.”
paper, aren’t they?” Anya asked, studying one of the cartons more closely. “Can
you do that? Maybe we could use them to put pieces of cake in for the guests to
take home. Don’t throw any of these away. I’ll start collecting them now.”
and Tara exchanged ‘eeeww’ glances.
you have to eat, like, tons of fried rice, between now and June to have
head bobbed as she mentally calculated. After a moment, she nodded and smiled,
eyes bright. “It might be a challenge, but I think Xander and I are up to it.”
okay, whatever.” Dawn sat down and reached for a pair of chopsticks.
expect your help, of course.”
was still focused on her cooking skills. “It can’t be that hard.” She opened
one of the food containers, looked inside, made a face, and passed it to Spike,
who handed it to Dawn. “People do it. I’m people. I am, therefore, I
think I might start having daymares now,” Tara muttered to
Dawn as she spooned some rice onto her plate. “Did you have to say something?
She’s acting like you threw out a challenge.”
nudged her plate close to Tara's. “Give me a spoonful of that, and observe,” she whispered
back. “Hey, So-Completely- Not!Martha! Liza told me about a job today. She
thought you might be interested in it.”
Liza?” Xander helped himself to some Kung Pao Chicken.
know – Emily. My new boss.” Dawn looked at Spike. “Before I forget, she told me
to tell you that you left that book you borrowed last night sitting on the
counter by the cash register. She said to just stop in anytime and pick it up.”
sort of job?” Giles asked. “Is there shrimp? I’m sure I ordered shrimp.” Tara passed a
container to the Watcher. He opened it. “This is chicken. Has anyone seen
Chicken?” Anya asked Giles, reaching out. “Buffy isn’t qualified to be a
teacher. Are you? I need the eggplant, too, and the veggie stir fry.”
Like anyone would actually consider Buffy for a teaching teaching job.
This is, like, aerobics and self defense and stuff. At the Wellness Center on campus.”
Buffy's brows rose as she passed another container to Spike without helping
herself to any of the contents. The vampire barely glanced inside before
dumping some of the Yangchow Fried Rice onto the Slayer’s plate. He added some
Moo Goo Gai Pan from another container.
Giles echoed, looking as intrigued as Buffy. Unable to locate any shrimp, the
Watcher settled for something unidentifiable from another carton.
yum, Ginger Beef!” Dawn snatched it up as soon as Giles finished with it. While
she was adding some of the meat to her heaping plate, Dawn passed on the
sketchy details Emily had given her.
maneuvered a piece of pork to his mouth with his chopsticks. “This is perfect
for you, Buff,” he said around the mouthful of tender and spicy meat.
don’t eat a lot of pork.”
mean the job.”
the Slayer,” Spike dismissed. “She has a job.” He bypassed the
chopsticks and pushed a plastic fork into Buffy’s hand. Once she began to eat,
he slouched back in his chair.
confusion of getting food onto plates settled down at last, and Xander expanded
on his enthusiasm for the potential job.
know Ahn said you’ll be okay financially, but –”
believe I said ‘one step away from abject poverty’.”
idea of abject poverty would seem to be slightly different to mine,” Giles
I’m sure it is,” Anya agreed.
went on. “So, okay, maybe you could use the extra bucks. Forget that part.
Physical coordination, aerobic endurance, fighting – all Buffy Summers strong points.
And you’d be teaching people to protect themselves, one of the
the Hellmouth. Then…” he glanced around the table, making sure he had
everyone’s attention. “Check it out. The better people are at protecting
themselves, the less they need the Slayer, resulting in more nights Bronzing
for the Buffster! Dating, dancing, and imbibing in the Nectar of the Gods!”
pointed look had him quickly wiping the anticipatory grin off his face. “Okay,
maybe not so much with the imbibing,” he said. “But this is definitely a win,
win, and win again situation.”
does seem tailor made,” Anya said. “So long as you don’t accidentally throw
your students through walls, or break their fragile human bones while you’re
demonstrating how to incapacitate a De’ Vilpi Glet demon.”
nodded. “We are so totally on the same wavelength here, Ahn.”
a perfectly frightful thought.”
zings again.” Xander paused. “Hey! Are you zinging my girl?”
sure to teach your students how to kill those little Spichert demons, too.”
know – those furry grey things, about a foot and a half tall that run around
the parks in town after dark screaming.”
you sure you don’t mean teenaged girls?”
glared. “Very funny,” she said. “They’re pretty harmless, aren’t they? Didn’t
the comedian here,” she nodded to Giles, “Look them up a couple of months ago
and decide we didn’t have to worry about them?”
don’t remember. But they’re annoying, and they hurt my ears.”
think they’re kind of cute.”
Tara smiled at
Dawn in agreement before turning to Buffy. “H—helping people is good. And, like
Xander said, teaching them to protect themselves… You’d like that, wouldn’t
must say, it does seem suited to you,” Giles said. “But I’m rather concerned –
did this Emily person say how many hours this would entail each week?”
wasn’t sure, but she thought it would probably be three or four days a week,
and maybe two or three evenings, too.”
busy during the day.”
eyes went wide.
the house,” Spike explained. “You know – making a home for the bit an’ all.”
widened eyes rolled. “Yeah, I put on my pearls and heels and vacuum all day.”
you? I wear one of those French Maid costumes. Sometimes Xander turns off the
television just to watch me dust.”
Tara paused with
a water chestnut halfway to her mouth. The chopsticks were lowered and she
covered her mouth with a napkin, stifling laughter. The others, having more
experience with Comments a la Anya, only paused briefly before resuming their
has high heels, but no pearls.” A thoughtful frown appeared between her brows.
“I don’t really think pearls would go with the fishnet stockings. What else do
you wear?” she asked Buffy.
she looked at Xander. “I bet you’d like that better than the maid
costume, wouldn’t you?”
you train during the day,” Spike interrupted with attitude. “Can’t afford to
slough off on that. A lazy Slayer’s bound to give evil the upper hand.”
I’m leading aerobics classes and teaching self defense, I’m pretty sure I’d be
looked distinctly put out. “’s not the same as training,” he griped.
Oooh, pouty. Look at that lip. Gonna get it, gonna get it…>
vampire lit a cigarette, ignoring the frowns and grumbles of protest from most
of those assembled. << Ha. >>
I still have to apply for this job, Blondie. And, like, interview and stuff. Which
I totally suck at. Will you quit pouting if I promise not to ‘neglect’ you if
by some miracle I actually get it? >
expression cleared, and he relaxed back in his chair again, looking smug and
I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. >
it is kind of like fighting for which someone is prepared to pay me.
This could be good. It might even lead to shoes.”
magic word distracted Dawn from her food. Her eyes lit up. “Shoes? For me, too,
can’t get by with the fifty pair each you already have?”
Maybe there’ll be money left over for some costumes of our own. Or bondage
body jerked forward as he started choking on the smoke he’d just inhaled.
helpful, Dawn pounded him on the back. “How many times have I told you to
quit?” she demanded. She took the cigarette out of his hand and put it out in
an empty food container.
snatched it up to inspect the damage. “Hey! Did you forget I wanted to save
smoking while we’re trying to eat is totally gross.”
vampire waved his hand, indicating that he’d – live.
If you’re leaning that way, pet, I might be able to find some interesting items
about the crypt. >>
Eeeww. I was kidding. >
brow quirked. << Might enjoy it. >>
And again, eeeww. We are so not going there. > Her eyes
slid over him. < Unless you want to dress up like someone from this
decade? I might be able to get into that. >
sucked in his cheeks, and his eyes softened. << ’s fine. Don’t need
costumes or toys, anyway. You’re more than enough for me. >>
I – I am? I mean… >
Oh, yeeeaaah. Yeah. Don’t you know yet how wild you have me? >>
by the warmth in the thought, Buffy could feel her face heating. < I…
…bloody well wish we were alone right now. >>
Um, yeah. >
inviting Spike? Since when?”
he helped me here while Giles was busy watching Willow float
around his apartment.”
or four days of stocking shelves and unpacking crates merits an invite to our
that, and I’m pretty sure it’s thanks to him that I got through the Festival of
the MagickMoons with all my fingers and toes attached. A girl doesn’t just
forget being rescued from a Klytaimnestra- Itselinora demon who’s about to
start carving her up for supper.”
Festival –? You mean that night in that church basement downtown last summer?
Spike got clobbered over the head and fell on that spiny-toady thing. I’m not
sure that qualifies as a rescue.”
end result was the same. I got out alive, all digits and other parts intact. So
he’s invited. Besides, I’m not really sure why, but vampires can make very good
liaisons between the human and demon guests at these events. I think it’s
because they can look human. Only, you know, generally paler.”
mouth fell open. “What? How? They eat humans! And just
how many demons are we inviting, anyway?”
if you feed them well first,” Anya answered. “And pay them. Of course, they’re
not as good at it as Hedgieyozhs are. They’re natural diplomats. But the
only one I knew died about three hundred and fifty years ago, so unless you’re
friends with one and just haven’t mentioned it to me, I don’t see how we could
get one to come. Especially on such short notice. They plan their social
engagements years in advance, and they’re pretty selective about which ones
they accept, too, let me tell you. Unless it’s a convention. No one understands
it, but they have this whole ‘thing’ for conventions. You can’t keep them
are not inviting hedgehogs to our wedding! We have to draw the line
am drawing the line. Spike can’t bring that witch.”
many demons, Ahn?”
witch?” Buffy asked as she and the vampire under discussion reemerged from the
training room. The Slayer was tucking stray strands of hair back into her
one hundred,” Anya responded to Xander before turning a firm expression to
Spike. “I’m sorry, Spike, but even if you’re boinking her, you can’t bring that
Gwyneth person to the wedding. I didn’t like her, and I’ve issued a very strict
‘no naked guests’ policy. They’re bound to distract attention from me. I
don’t want you to think I’m discriminating against your girlfriend just because
of the naked thing, though. I mean, I did tell my friend Lindsay that she had
to wear clothes too. She’s a L’Ittl Ezink demon, and they find it much easier
to go naked all the time.” Anya tilted her head. “It’s the constant shedding, I
think. But even if she covers herself from head to foot in opaque fabric,
Gwyneth can’t come. She’s obviously evil.”
isn’t evil,” Tara said, without looking up from the book she was reading.
you, and we all know you were hot for her.”
who was sitting on a stool at the opposite end of the counter Xander and Anya
were leaning on, didn’t seem to hear her. She pulled the cap off a yellow
marker with her teeth and highlighted a couple of passages in her book.
glanced from Anya to the quiet witch and back again.
the sodding hell is Gwyneth?”
hundred?” Xander asked.
think she means C’erdd Circe of Gwen,” Buffy volunteered. < One of these
days, maybe you could explain her to me. >
Worried, pet? >>
tossed her head. < I’m curious. It’s a completely different thing. >
with two zeros?”
threatened me,” Anya told Spike, “and I don’t trust her. So you’ll have to find
a different date. Or come stag.” Her eyes lit up. “You might meet someone
there! Someone better!”
dream of bringing the bint.”
she be okay with that?” Anya looked concerned. “Because I wouldn’t want to stir
up all kinds of bad wedding day karma by causing trouble between another couple.
Or have her casting spells on us all willy-nilly.”
ninety-nine, one hundred. That one hundred?”
huffed with exasperation and turned to her fiancé. “Yes, Xander, that
sure they’ll behave at least as well as your Uncle Lou and Aunt Victoria, and
their amazingly large and Damien-like brood.”
with be no ‘yeahbuttal’. This subject is closed, Mr. Harris.”
mouth snapped shut. He inhaled deeply, twice, and shook out his shoulders.
“Bathroom,” he muttered, moving off.
watched him go before turning back to Spike. “She won’t, will she? Cast spells
or be upset?”
don’t think she’ll try to send any evil mojo raining down on your big day.”
smiled, relieved. “Oh, good.”
huh? Before you know it, someone will be lining me up with the chit who catches
usually Dawn,” Buffy said. “She has a very impressive vertical leap.”
mile-wide ruthless streak probably contributes, too.”
Tara piped up
again. “She prefers to call that determination.”
determined. Whatever it is, you never want to get between Dawn and cheesy
popcorn,” Anya put in. “Or, from the looks of things, Sweet and Sour Pork. I
nodded her head toward the research table where Dawn and Giles were still
peering into cartons of food to see what they might have missed. Dawn snatched
one of the white containers away just as the Watcher was reaching for it.
she declared, clutching it to her.
less than half my age and blessed with the reflexes of youth. Perhaps you would
be so kind as to make allowances for my advanced state of decay, not to mention
the fact that I paid for the food, and share.”
looked into the carton again, seemed to consider, and then, with great
reluctance, pushed two of the others on the table toward Giles with the
tips of her chopsticks. The one she’d claimed was emptied onto her plate. Giles
glared, watching her attack the mound of shrimp with what could only be termed
glee, before he started poking into the remains of the feast again, grumbling
under his breath.
splashed another handful of icy water onto his face and reached for the towel.
He straightened, patting at his wet skin, and met his own eyes in the mirror
over the sink.
Harris,” he said, out loud. “You’ve been through at least half a dozen
apocalypses. You can probably deal with the fact that more than half the
‘people’ at your wedding aren’t, apparently, going to be ‘people’ at all. Of
course, if that was the only thing on your mind right now, it’d be a hell of a
gone through a lot of ups and downs in his life, both Before Hellmouth
Awareness and after. During the ‘downs’ he’d been scared and angry, terrified
and heartbroken, disgusted, furious, sad and scared again. But for the most
part, except in the darkest of those down phases, he’d been able to adjust,
accept, keep a fairly positive attitude and make with the quips to help himself
and the people around him to deal with the weirdness that was their lives.
Humor was his niche, and he considered the providing of it to be one of his
most important roles in the group.
though, the humor was getting harder to maintain, and the quips were becoming
fewer and farther between. He was trying to be happy. Trying to think positive
thoughts; to concentrate on all the good things that were happening in his
life. Really. Trying. But there were so damned many things happening around him
that he found upsetting or just plain disturbing on some level or another that
keeping up with the positive-ness was approaching impossible.
Willow topped the
list of disturbing things. He could probably come up with examples of a few
things in his life that had been bigger worry-causers, but this – with Willow – had to be
right up there. To be honest, he was more than worried about her; he was almost
sick with fear. And when she’d tried to come into his mind that morning… He
could still hardly believe it, and the betrayal he felt at her actions only
made him more afraid.
top of the fear and worry, there was the whole helplessness he felt.
He’d felt a similar sense of helplessness with Buffy when she’d first come
back. Nothing he’d done then had seemed to reach her, and nothing he’d said had
worked to alter that frozen, lost look on her face.
hated it then, and feeling helpless again now was bringing home to him how much
he would always hate that ‘can’t change things, can’t make a difference’
feeling. It was a hell of a lot worse than facing down a demon. He couldn’t
chop the head off of whatever it was that was affecting Willow; couldn’t
ride up with the cavalry, or even a rock, and help her that way.
tried to tell himself that they’d done something by getting rid of the power
dealers. That hadn’t exactly been a picnic, either, especially knocking off the
last couple. Alerted to the fact that someone was eliminating their kind, the
remaining two dealers had thrown up extra defenses. They’d been harder to find,
and ever harder to destroy. Xander was still surprised they’d gotten rid of
them with no serious injuries to anyone. Some tall, bluish, security type at
the last place had sliced up Giles’ arm, but other than that, they’d come out
of the week of battles virtually gauze and antiseptic free. Buffy had stitched
up Giles’ arm, and it seemed to be healing fine.
making him feel like he was taking some positive action, the nightly battles
had allowed him to vent some of his aggression on deserving parties, too, which
had so been good for his psyche.
killing a bunch of demon mafia types hadn’t brought his friend back. He
should’ve known that by now; shouldn’t have nursed that hope that eliminating
them would break some evil hold on Willow. He was
pretty sure Buffy had been hoping for the same thing. They both should
have known. Killing demons and fighting the good fight hadn’t brought Jesse
back, or Ms. Calendar. Or even Buffy herself.
had taken Willow, and heap big powerful magic to do that last.
‘whoa’ed’ himself, reminding himself forcefully that Willow was not
dead. Just because his best friend since forever wasn’t exactly at home right
now, didn’t mean she was gone for good. After all, he’d come back from being a
hyena, hadn’t he? And from being the object of affection for every female in
Sunnydale, and from being Dracula’s emissary, and from being a vampire in that
alternative universe world Cordelia had wished up. Well, he hadn’t exactly come
back from that, but…
just had to figure out what was possessing Willow, and get
rid of it.
they would. Soon. Because that’s what they did.
if she was being possessed by some part of herself.
hung the towel back on the bar.
he missed her. The months after Buffy's death had been such a pit of pain that
he hadn’t really noticed until several months had passed that he and Willow weren’t
exactly doing their mourning together. He’d mourned alone or with Anya, and Willow had turned
to Tara and, he
later discovered, to the books she’d thought might help them to save Buffy from
hell. Dawn had had Tara, and the cold-eyed and silent Spike. And Giles? To be honest,
Xander didn’t know if he’d turned to anyone. He felt a stab of guilt. Had
anyone been there for the Watcher, who’d lost not only his Slayer, but the girl
he loved like a daughter?
seemed odd that he was just thinking of this now – the way the old gang, after
those first, worst days, hadn’t clung to each other in their sorrow. The
times they’d all been together had been kind of stilted, silent and
businesslike. Research, slay, go their separate ways. Maybe the pain had just
been too deep for them to talk about Buffy, or much of anything, for that
matter. He knew he’d found it bad enough just looking at the others; having to
see the pain on their faces. He knew it was on his own as well, and he didn’t
feel like he wanted to add to anyone else’s pain by sharing his own. Maybe that
had been the wrong thing to do; maybe sharing would have made it easier for
everyone, but at the time, it had seemed so much easier to get away from them
and mourn alone. Or with Anya, who had been a rock for him. He’d spent a lot of
time trying to lose himself in other things – movies or television, sports,
anything. Normal things that didn’t have any Hellmouthy overtones and so didn’t
arouse any Buffy related memories.
approached him with the resurrection idea, though, he’d found himself able to
think and talk about Buffy more easily. He supposed the hope of having her back
with them in the future had opened the door to talking with the others about
her and their shared past.
it was that whole doing something thing. It was a goal; something to
work toward; something to keep his mind busy. Okay, it was something really
huge, and more important than anything else he’d ever done, so it had been
really big on the terrifying, but it had still helped.
if Willow hadn’t been
really big on the sharing of the details – well, she’d been pretty busy, hadn’t
she? Researching, planning, gathering everything together, checking and
rechecking every last little detail… She’d assign tasks to him, or to Tara or
Anya, but even then, she double-checked everything they did, examined and
tested every ingredient or needed implement they gathered. And then she went
over it all again, and then again, and again. Obsession didn’t even begin to
had made a lot of excuses for Willow’s short temper and her secretiveness over
the long summer, and he wondered, now, if this whole situation with her could
have been averted if he’d been more involved, more insistent on talking
everything out with her, learning more about what she was doing and how she was
doing it. He didn’t know, couldn’t know, at this point, if what was
happening with Willow now had anything to do with the resurrection. Maybe he’d
never know. But he’d been thinking about it a lot lately… Worrying, too, that
he might have failed her somehow by not speaking up.
he’d just focused on the things Willow had asked him to do; had tried to
keep the peace between everyone; and generally played supportive guy, something
he was really good at.
been so sure that once Buffy was back with them, her presence and the role
they’d played in making it possible would draw them all closer together. They’d
form a tight unit again, and things would be back to normal. The way they had
been once, the way they should be. The way they hadn’t been for –
well, for a couple of years.
hadn’t exactly panned out that way, though…
left the bathroom and moved back into the shop, pausing just inside the door.
His eyes slid around the room, pausing on each of the occupants in turn.
weren’t growing apart, he assured himself, even though Giles had suggested
it was inevitable. He knew that happened to a lot of people, and he knew there
had been some – issues – with the Scoobies over the last couple of years. But
those were growing pains, not growing apartness. There was a
they had some things to work through – some really big things – but
they’d get through them, and be all the stronger for them.
dealers – gone.
ensconced in her parents home. Well, ensconced, anyway. And hopefully safe.
Giles and Tara had, in the dead of night, places some wards around the Rosenberg abode to
try to safe things up for Willow and her parents. During their first chess lesson earlier today,
Giles hade made some noises about further research and other reassuring Watchery
sounds. (Note to self: Christmas present for Giles should be a chess set where
the pieces looked like things – horses and little knights in shining
black or white armor and stuff like that – and not just oh-so-easily confused
knobs of wood in a few different sizes.) Xander was counting on the older man
to come up with something promising soon.
he would. Because that’s what he did.
the meantime, he, Xander Harris, was engaged to the woman he loved. Very
positive. They were planning their wedding. Also positive, except…
when was Anya so in touch with old demon buddies? He hadn’t even known demons had
friends. Didn’t they just have gangs and evil-deed-doing partners? And was
she so ‘in touch’ with them that they were probably going to have more demons
at their wedding than humans? What the hell was up with that?
can get through this, he told himself again. And, whatever you do, don’t make
an issue of it. Anya’s stressed out enough as it is.
we say ‘understatement’, boys and girls?
had been moody lately, intense, and leaning waaay over toward the
short-tempered side, which was worrying him. He’d tried to get her to talk to
him about whatever might be bothering her, but she hadn’t seemed in the mood to
share, which was un-Anya-like enough to make him worry even more.
guys at work, most of them long married, and much wiser, one would think, in
the ways of women, had advised him that a short-tempered fiancée was pretty
normal; that planning a wedding was a bitch, and that Anya probably wouldn’t
relax again until it was all over. And no, he shouldn’t try to take over some
of the work for her. Chances were she wouldn’t let him anyway, and if she did,
he was sure to screw things up because men always did, and…
your mouth shut and your checkbook open,” Mel had said. “Nod a lot. If you
really want to make an impression, learn to tell the different between roses
and lilies, and maybe daisies.”
others agreed. The groom, they’d told him, didn’t really have a lot to do with
the big day, and was better off staying out of it until it was time to say ‘I
the bride-to-be decided to allow him a bachelor party, however, he should
definitely take her up on her womanly generosity. They’d be more than happy to
help him make it a night he’d always remember. Or possibly never
remember. Either way, they were in. They’d take care of the stripper, too.
had to admit that his interest in the gazillion details was limited. Satin or
grosgrain ribbon, patterned or plain, wired?, netting… And all that just involved
one bow on the card basket! There was a certain horror in realizing that he
even knew what grosgrain ribbon was…
he should take his coworkers advice and just be supportive guy again. Weddings
did seem to be designed for the bride, and probably the bride’s mother, if,
um, she hadn’t been dead for over a thousand years.
a thousand years.
he was marrying a woman who was more than eleven hundred years old. He let his
eyes rest on her. She and Dawn were looking through a wedding magazine,
chatting happily as they pointed out things to one another that caught their
eye. Tara, still studying, looked up whenever they flashed the magazine
her way and asked for an opinion.
was practically glowing.
eyes softened. Damn, but he loved her! He didn’t care how old she was.
this was good – back to thinking about good things.
were other good things. Buffy seemed to be recovering from her time in hell.
She was talking more often; starting to socialize. All good. He thought the job
at the University would be perfect for her. She’d be out among people, not
sitting in her house all day long, alone and brooding. It’d be so great – and
such a relief – to see her connecting to people again. And maybe even making
with the smiling. Please. Okay, yeah, he’d seen a few recently. Little ones.
But Buffy smiles had been rare since they’d brought her back, and he wanted to
see them all the time. Daily. Hourly. If they were occasionally
accompanied by laughter -- mega bonus.
Slayer was across the room, leaning casually against the wall as she talked to
Giles. His eyes settled on her just as she tossed a brilliant smile to the
other – person – standing with them.
one standing next to her.
Right next to
her. Leaning against the wall at her side.
felt the tension he’d tried to shake off by splashing water on his face return
in force. The existence of the vampire bothered him. His growing presence in
their lives disturbed him. The relaxed, easy camaraderie between him and the Summers’
sisters totally squigged him out.
his attempts at positive thinking came to an abrupt end.
did they – Buffy and Spike – always seem to be together?
patrolled together. They trained together. He hadn’t known about the regularity
of either of those things until a week or so ago.
Spike was still sitting out on the roof of the Summers’ house every
night. Dawn had mentioned that, so he knew Buffy hadn’t insisted the weird
guard duty come to an end.
little Dawnie, who had hero-worshiped him for so long… all googily and
admiring over the walking corpse. The teenager had told him that she and Spike
had a standing Friday night ‘date’, a practice that Dawn obviously loved but
that made Xander grit his teeth. Oh, he was pretty sure, thank the powers and
any deities a guy could name, that the crush Dawn had inexplicably developed on
Spike last year was well and truly over. But even aside from that, it bothered
him to see how completely at ease the girl was with the vampire – touching him,
joking with him, scolding him, for god’s sake.
was all just so – wrong.
speaking of wrong -- was there any reason the vampire and the Slayer
always had to be standing or sitting so ookily close to each other? He’d
started to notice it during the last week while they’d been fighting the power
dealers, and now it seemed to be slapping him in the face whenever he turned
around. They sat next to each other at the Magic Box; they sat next to each
other at Buffy's. Once, god, she’d even perched on the arm of the chair the
bleached wonder was sitting in for a few minutes. They walked next to each
other on the street and stood together when the group was talking.
noticed that they didn’t fight together. During the battles with the power
dealers, Spike had been fighting, yeah, but he’d remained glued to Dawn's side
while Buffy had taken charge of going after the head honcho. As soon as the
fighting was over, though, there they were again, standing together, running
their eyes over each other as if checking for injuries…
It was shudder-worthy, and it was working
its way steadily up his disturbing things list.
Spike's mouth moved and whatever it was he
said, the words brought a smile to Giles’ face. Xander didn’t get that either. This whole – friendship
thing – between the two. Giles had been trained in demonology for most of his
life. He should damned well know that trusting Spike was a huge mistake.
The tension in Xander's body went up
Vampire. Demon. Soulless demon. Not a person. Not a man. Giles himself had
told them how it was, back in the beginning. The Watcher knew.
Dawn had left Anya and crossed the room to
join the other group. Her arms were crossed and her voice had taken on that
whiny but vastly superior tone that she’d mastered when she was about ten and
still used from time to time.
“Come on, Buffy. I have plans, remember?
With Kate and Jill? If we don’t leave now, I won’t be ready on time.”
Buffy glanced toward the table holding the
remains of their meal. “Are you sure there isn’t anything else over there you
want to scarf down?”
“You and Giles should really stop with the
trying to be funny, because you’re so not. Besides, Liza and I worked right
through lunch, and I was hungry.”
“She’s not going to starve you every
Saturday, is she?”
“Pleeease. It’s just the Christmas rush.” The girl looked at Spike. “And
you -- Don’t even ask. Jill’s mom is picking me up and Kate’s mom is bringing
me home.” She sighed when his gaze didn’t waver. “We’re just chilling at
Kate’s. No big.”
“Didn’t say a word, did I?”
“You don’t have to. You have interrogation
eyes. It’s creepy.”
Xander had to agree with that. The whole
situation was creepy.
“Can you stay?” Giles asked Spike.
“There’s something I wish to discuss with you.”
Spike glanced at Buffy before nodding.
Xander wondered if his jaw made a lot of
noise when it hit the floor. Since no one looked his way, he figured it hadn’t.
Dear god, he thought. He looks like he’s clearing it with the
wife. That was beyond creepy.
But, apparently, there was also waaay beyond
creepy, because, just for a second, Xander thought Spike was actually going to
bend down and kiss Buffy. She even looked up at him like she was expecting it.
Okay. That was gross. And that was not a strong enough word.
He shook his head, trying to throw off the
nightmare-like impression. He hadn’t just seen that, he assured
himself. He was stressed about a bunch of stuff and his brain was just going
all whackadoo. Or maybe the already incomprehensible Spike situation was making
him paranoid. And possibly hallucinatory.
Thankfully, the disturbing moment passed
without any actual contact between the two blonds. Spike tugged on Dawn's hair,
told her to have fun, and followed Giles into the back room.
The relief Xander felt was cut short when
he noticed how Giles closed the door firmly behind them. His lips tightened. Another private conference. They seemed
to be a fairly regular occurrence. Before long, the two Englishmen would be
installing a Cone of Silence over the Scooby research table.
“Coming with us, Tara?” Buffy asked.
Tara looked up. “What? Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
She gathered her books and other paraphernalia and stowed everything away in
her back pack.
Dawn changed from know-it-all-teenager to
sympathetic friend. “When’s your last final?”
“Wednesday. I can’t wait until they’re
over. Maybe I’ll feel like I can breathe again then.”
“You’ll do fine,” Buffy told her. “You’re,
like, the studying queen. If I go back to school next fall, I fully expect some
of that to rub off on me.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Xander said. “If
Willow didn’t rub off on you once in all these years, I doubt Tara will.”
The women all turned to him, their faces
registering surprise at the nastiness of both the comment and the tone. Xander
didn’t care. He wasn’t feeling anywhere near lighthearted, and at the moment,
he didn’t think he could stand to see the rest of them acting that way. Were
they all oblivious to the depth of trouble Willow was in? To the dangers of
Spikey integration? Didn’t they care?
He knew he was being completely
unreasonable. He’d been working for a lighthearted mood himself over dinner,
and it’s not like he could expect them to be mentally following his train of
thought or something, but again, he just
Buffy opened her mouth, closed it, shifted
her shoulders, and turned away from him. “Yeah, Je will probably still stink,”
she said. She looked at her housemates. “Ready?”
“Yeah, let’s go.”
The overhead bell jangled as they left.
something I’d like you to do, and I hope you’ll consider it,” Giles began.
brow rose questioningly.
been meaning to ask you for some time, and I – well, I’d like you to do some
stared. “You been talking to the bit?”
was confused. “About what?”
waved a hand. “’s not important. What’d you have in mind? Demonology? Don’t you
have enough books on that? Not that I couldn’t do better than some of the tripe
I’ve seen on your shelves. There are a few that are so far off the mark, I
reach for them when I’m looking for comic relief.”
not demonology. Though, perhaps you’d be so helpful as to direct me to the
volumes you believe contain faulty information.” Surely Spike could have been
doing that right along? Inaccurate
information could be dangerous! “Actually, I was thinking more of a personal
history. Your own story of being turned and what came afterward. Your life as a
face changed. “Not big on muckin’ about in the past,” he muttered.
–” Giles broke off, noting the vampire’s closed expression. “Perhaps something
less personal, then,” he substituted. “General vampiric behaviors, or histories
of various groups – your clan, perhaps.”
Order. That sounded promising.
know much,” Spike admitted. “I bloody well couldn’t stand that prune faced old
git, ‘The Master’, as he liked to call himself. Couldn’t just be a master,
could he? Had to be all prefaced and capitalized. Angelus couldn’t stomach the
tosser either,” Spike added with some amusement. “One of the few things we
never failed to agree on. We did our best to stay as far away from him as
your history –”
didn’t much care, and I’m afraid I didn’t listen up when I was being preached
at. Darla now – she’d know. Big favorite of The Master. ‘Course he was her
sire. The first time around, anyway.”
The first time around? “Yes, well, aside from the fact that she
seemed to be quite determined to kill us, making it difficult for me to think
she’d be in any way willing to share information with us were she able, Darla
know that’s not always a permanent condition, Watcher. Last I heard, the bint
was hightailing it around L.A. with soul boy. Or at least coming into contact
– are you saying Darla is alive again? How is that possible?”
have the details,” Spike said. “You want any information there, you’d best be
contacting Angelus, or maybe that watcher bloke he hangs out with.” The blond
paused to light a cigarette. “Seein’ her again had Dru feeling all nostalgic,
gave a snort that sounded a lot more like disgust than amusement, though it
could sometimes be difficult to tell the difference with him.
you want information on Aurel – our Order, Darla’s your girl. When we were
together, Darla would have to go running home to see his high and mightiness
every few months. Dragged Dru along with her most of the time. Angelus and I…”
He took a long pull on his cigarette, and finished his sentence in a short
staccato tone. “We didn’t go with them.”
blew out a long stream of smoke, his expression hard and distant. It was a
moment before he cranked his neck and continued.
couldn’t always avoid it, of course.
Got all-called every once in a while. Expected to make an appearance. God, he
never could keep his hole shut, and we were forced to sit there pretending to
listen. He’d blither on for hours on end about paying homage to The Old Ones.
Or about how the Order was getting ‘corrupted’; the traitors in his midst… The
whole thing bored me to tears.”
who knows? Maybe by rebels like Angelus and me who didn’t want to bow down and
kiss his cock? Probably makes as much sense as anything he could come up with.”
blinked at the unexpected crudity. Strangely, Spike was usually fairly
temperate in his language. At least, Giles thought with some amusement, by
American R rated movie standards. Of
course, all the ‘bloody’s’ wouldn’t be well accepted in a good many circles
back home. The Colonials didn’t frown on that word in the same way.
leaned back in his chair, balancing it on two legs as he lifted his feet to the
I heard him ranting a time or two about how The Old Ones wouldn’t have put up
with everything that was happening, and how he was gonna crush the
insurrectionists. Like I said, I never paid him much mind. Used to drive the
wanker wild with my lack of respect.
on the other hand,” he drawled out, “Worshipped at her sire’s feet. It was
bloody revolting to see them together. Her in her little girl outfits, all
dressed up to please the old whoremonger.
she was addicted to Angelus too, and his big brown eyes – not to mention his
other parts – usually won out over her sire. That and his willingness to trot
all over the globe with her. I don’t think she was particularly fond of The
Master’s ideas of luxury living. She stayed with Angelus, with us, until he got
all soulful. That drove a wedge between them right quick. I think she’d have
done anything to get the unsouled version back.” Spike paused and took another
long pull on his smoke. “She didn’t take kindly to her boy’s defection. And Dru
was…” He broke off. “I hated that vicious whore.”
can hear that,” Giles commented. Spike’s hatred for Darla dripped from his
voice. His tone conveyed much more affection for Dru, which he would have
expected, and even for Angel, or Angelus as he called him, which Giles hadn’t
expected. He’d gotten the impression there wasn’t a lot of love lost
between the two. However, Council records seemed to indicate they had lived
together for a long time; perhaps as much as fifty years. He wasn’t quite sure
when Spike had been sired, or he’d probably be able to calculate the length of
the relationship more accurately. Regardless of specifics, they’d been together
for a good number of years, and it was logical to assume that the relationships
between the four powerful vampires were multi-layered, tangled and complicated.
The history of their rather unique family intrigued him. Spike had stated he
didn’t like dredging up the past, but once he was talking, the words flowed
with only small hesitations and avoidances. Perhaps he would reconsider… “My
own impressions of Darla were far from favorable.”
surprise me,” Spike said. “You’re generally a fairly intelligent bloke.”
that a compliment?” Giles asked, his tone light.
guess it was at that.”
do hope you’ll give this writing idea some thought,” Giles pressed. “I would be
fascinated to read any first hand accounts of your history or the history of
others that you could provide. If not that, then, like I said, general vampire
lore, traditions, anything of that sort. The Council has a lot of material, but
sadly, little in that vein actually penned from – shall we say? – your
shrugged. “I’ll think about it,” he said, but to Giles’ disappointment, his
tone didn’t sound very promising. “How about a game of chess?”
think that could be arranged. Would you like a beer to go on with?” he asked.
“I have a couple of cases of Old Peculier.”
vampire’s eyes lit up with a pleasure Giles had no trouble interpreting. It
could be so difficult to get a decent pint in this country.
course the bottled stuff isn’t a patch on a draught.”
well, I shall be sure to invite you to the next kegger I host.”
touched.” Spike plopped his chair back onto all four legs, and dropped his feet
to the floor. He leaned forward, setting up the chess pieces. “Might as well
bring me two,” he said. “We both know I have a much higher tolerance for
alcohol than you do.”
wondrous talent to brag on, to be sure.”
spoke up as soon as the bell went silent. “That wasn’t very nice, Xander.”
Well, I’m not feeling very nice.”
goody. What’s got you all pissy? You were fine at dinner.”
forced his clenched fists to relax. “I’m… I’m just worried about Willow,” he
knew that. What else?”
there have to be something else?”
You saw Willow this morning. You’ve had all day to fret about her. What
triggered this? Or is it just that you can’t stand to see anyone smiling when
your precious best friend isn’t around to share it?”
He so did not need Anya’s Willow hostilities to come out right now.
that’s not all. There’s a whole pile of stuff, and Willow is just at the top of
talk about the wedding, Xander, he told himself, or the demon guests. That’s
likely to make her go ballistic.
crawling out from the bottom of that pile, where you’d expect to find him, is
What did he do?”
is, Ahn. That’s enough.”
slapped the cover of the bridal magazine shut. With abrupt movements she pulled
a dust cloth out of a drawer under the cash register, and turned away from him
to start dusting the racks of spell ingredients displayed behind the counter.
She hated that job, and the fact the she’d chosen to start doing it now, along
with the massive body language, told him that this was not a subject she wanted to discuss. Well, he didn’t want to have to discuss it. Sometimes life just
doesn’t go the way you wish it would.
Like he hadn’t discovered that at a really early age.
is. That’s enough,” she repeated
sarcastically. “What is your problem with
same as it’s always been! He’s a demon, Ahn. A killer. All this – hanging
around stuff – it’s bad. Really bad. Dangerous.”
been fighting at his side all week long! Again.”
a good fighter. I admit that. And he’s been helpful. But it’s gonna blow up in
our faces. This isn’t the first time we’ve made nice with a demon.”
Anya stilled for a moment. “What do you
“Angel? You do remember Angel, don’t
it’s not like I hung out with him or anything, but, yes, I remember the love of
Buffy's life. Tall and broody. With that hair thing going on. Spike's hair is a
little unique, too. Do you think it’s because they can’t see their reflections
and they have no idea what’s happening on top of their heads?”
wasn’t going to let her distract him. “I think
we tried trusting him. We hung out with him, accepted his help. Just. Like.
Spike. And then, kablooey! He goes psycho world destroyer on us.”
we back on the soul thing?” Her voiced cooled several degrees. “Because Spike
doesn’t have a soul to lose, does he?”
are evil, Ahn. Angel didn’t have his
soul when he tried to destroy the world. But it was all present and accounted
for when he almost drained Buffy. She was trying to save his life, he was supposedly in love with her, and he
still lost it!”
lost his soul again when he bit her?”
Control. He lost control!”
blood can kind of drive vampires
wild, but I can’t see that being much of a problem with Spike. Buffy would
never let him that close to her neck, and even if they tripped and he fell on
her or something, he still couldn’t drink from her. He has a chip.”
felt like banging his head on the counter with frustration. Couldn’t she see
that this was a serious issue? If she was just going to shrug everything away…
a chip. A piece of silicon and plastic and little bits of wire. Or something.
Something all – sciencey and mechanical. God, Ahn, don’t you get it? Mechanical
stuff breaks down. Nothing works forever. And the chip is government issue,
which is not exactly a confidence builder!”
not making anti-American comments in my shop, are you? Because this is a
thoroughly capitalist business. And very American.” She turned back toward him
just long enough to pick up the skull mug sitting on the counter that held a
handful of miniature American flags. “See?”
she couldn’t see the serious bit.
“Ahn…” he groaned.
went back to her dusting. “Okay, okay. I get it. You’ve mentioned it often
enough. No soul. No conscience. Evil, evil, evil.” Her head bobbed from side to
side with the words. “What are you going to do about it?”
just it! I can’t do anything. Or,
well, probably not. It’s up to Buffy. She’s the only one who can get rid of
him. Either she has to kill him, or she has to force him to get the hell out of
our lives before something happens.”
doesn’t seem very inclined to do that.”
little girlfriendy support and understanding would be welcome here, Ahn.”
turned back and met his eyes. “Do you just want me to make sympathetic noises,
Xander? Because Buffy seems just fine
having Spike around.”
a big part of the whole point! Buffy
obviously has a problem with vampires. Some of them, anyway. First Angel
and now Spike. God, maybe it’s their bloodline or something. At least she’s not
all moony over Spike, but she still seems to have some kind of blind spot about
him. And it’s dangerous for all of us. Last time, she couldn’t bring herself to
kill Angel, and because of that, Ms.
Calendar died. This isn’t something we can just keep ignoring.”
don’t think – oh.” Anya broke off and stared over Xander's shoulder.
horrified look on her face had Xander spinning toward the door. He hadn’t heard
there she was, standing just inside the door. Her jacket, which had been left
behind, forgotten on a bench near the door, was now in her hands.
Anya quickly rearranged her face into her best professional
shopkeeper’s smile. “Hi Buffy!”
The Slayer didn’t even glance at her, and her grim expression
didn’t change. “Do you have something you wanna say to me, Xander?”
Xander took in her rigid stance. Shit, shit, shit. He hadn’t
What had she heard?
she couldn’t bring herself to kill Angel, and because of that, Ms. Calendar died.”
Oh, double shit, shit, shit.
He could almost see the walls that had finally been falling away
around Buffy the last couple of weeks going back up. She looked more remote
already. Apart. Which was one of the last things he wanted. Maybe he should
Xander took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. No. He couldn’t back down. Not this
time. He hadn’t pressed Will over the summer, and that had probably been a
honking big mistake. And this was important,
damn it. Trying to mind his own business and keep the peace wouldn’t be very
comforting if, when, something went
wrong and someone else died.
He couldn’t stand back and play supportive guy.
Not this time.
Even if it hurt.
Which he was pretty sure it was gonna.
“Yeah,” he said as he rose slowly to his feet. “I guess I do.”
Continued in Chapter Eighteen